School & District Management Opinion

WARNING: This Blog Post May Be Too ‘Taboo’ for Wimpy Teachers

By Marilyn Rhames — July 31, 2013 4 min read
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Are you a scared teacher? Come on, admit it: You’re scared, aren’t you? This is not a put-down. This is reality. Teachers in America are scared to voice their true opinions about matters concerning education because we fear being ostracized by our colleagues, labeled a troublemaker by our administration, or worse—fired.

I get emails all the time from scared teachers. They will email me an amazingly insightful comment to my blog post, but when I ask them to post it on the website they immediately back out.

One reader responded, “I’ve been slapped hard for fussing about such things within the confines of my own school. I imagine writing such a blog for a national audience might be about like placing a bulls-eye on my back. I do want/intend to [write] a guest blog but not on that topic (unless I become rich and no longer need my salary and benefits!).”

I struggled a lot with this tension when I first started blogging—and sometimes still do. My strength as a writer is transparency, but it can also be a weakness. I know my bosses read everything I write, and though I never mention my school by name, they could potentially call me to the carpet about my views. There are some topics that are just too risky to talk about publicly ... or are they?

The BAM! Radio Network has set out to change the way teachers talk about education. Rae Pica, author and co-founder of the online education-focused radio station, recently launched Taboo, a show where teachers discuss the unmentionables of education. She envisioned it to be education’s version of ABC’s The View, but on the radio instead of television. Rae asked me to be a regular co-host.

This idea all started when Rae sent out an email to a group of teacher-bloggers and asked us if we’d be comfortable discussing what teachers should do if they suspect other teachers of cheating on student standardized tests. Several teachers refused to talk about such a toxic topic; others said they’d want to frame the topic around why unfair, high stakes standardized tests force teachers to cheat; other teachers said cheating is wrong—period.

I agreed with the latter stance and said ‘the cheating teacher’ is a taboo topic, and that there are far too many taboos in education. Another teacher added that if we as teachers don’t willingly talk about these sticky issues, then somebody from the outside who doesn’t know what he’s talking about will.

This email discussion inspired Rae to give birth to Taboo. We’ve recorded and aired two shows, “Taboo: Talking About Education Issues We Often Avoid,” and “When Protecting the Teaching Profession Clashes with Righting What’s Wrong in Education.”

Potential topics may also include what to do when the teacher next door keeps making racist comments ... when parents get what they want by bullying the principal ... when you’re a union delegate in an anti-charter teachers union but all three of your children secretly attend charter schools. You know, those kinds of things.

I know that there are risks in participating in a radio show like Taboo. But that’s the point: there shouldn’t be any major risks. Teachers should not be intimidated into silence. We should feel empowered to express our views; after all, we are charged with empowering and inspiring the next generation of critically thinking citizens. How can we effectively achieve this mission if we ourselves are disenfranchised and scared?

I don’t want my children being taught by spineless wimps. I want them to be led by confident teachers who will not just do what they are told but are governed by internal guiding principles of justice and truth—the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Yes, I value my job. Yes, the Chicago Public Schools is laying off thousands of teachers. Yes, I could potentially be one of them. I am scared? Sometimes. But I overcome my fear by being even bolder (and slightly crazy.)

I am a teacher. Inherent in that title is a belief that I can change the world, if only by inspiring a kid who will one day change the world. I have a voice, and I choose to use it! Who knows, one of my taboo-laden blog posts might change another teacher’s life, and that teacher might go on to inspire a student who will end up changing the world. Transparency in teaching is too profound to measure!

I wish the BAM! Radio’s Taboo much success. The only way to stop the public’s onslaught of teacher bashing is for teachers and administrators to rise up and admit that yes, we have issues, too. (Anyone who has ever gone to school knows that anyway.)

We will improve our public image and increase our credibility once we stop calling it treason when teachers openly discuss our own biases, hypocrisies, and failures.

Yes, educators can change the world, but we must first start with ourselves. Uh-oh ... was that comment too taboo?

*Image used with permission from The BAM! Radio Network.

The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.